Capt. Sam’s Spit justifies beach law

Captain Sam's Spit as seen from the air. (Brad Nettles/File)

The only thing more unrelenting than Kiawah Development Partners’ attempts to develop pristine Captain Sam’s Spit is the Kiawah River that is eroding it.

When the S.C. Supreme Court in December ruled against developers’ plan to build a 2,700-foot concrete bulkhead to try to stop such erosion at the south end of Kiawah Island, some assumed the ill-advised project was dead in the water.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

KDP, now owned by Charlotte developers, is redoubling its efforts. This time it is trying to convince the Legislature not to pass a conservation bill that would help protect all public beaches. Company spokesmen made their pitch before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. Cited were South Carolina’s pro-business environment and the potential for lost tax revenue to Charleston County.

The company opposes a bill aimed at preventing development too close to the ocean where structures are vulnerable to the changing coastline.

Absent the restriction, the public’s ability to access and enjoy the beach will be threatened.

Equally devastating would be the damage to wildlife habitat. Numerous shorebirds, including at least one endangered and one threatened species can be found on Captain Sam’s Spit. Dolphins strand- feed along its riverbank.

KDP’s plans depend on its building a road on a narrow strip of land providing access to some 50 houses it wants to build on 20 acres of the 120-acre spit.

Pending legislation would prevent that from happening. It would direct that the critical line on state beaches, beyond which building is banned, may not be moved oceanward when the beach grows due to renourishment or natural accretion. KDP is banking on being able to do just that to accommodate a road.

The Legislature would do well to recall that a Blue Ribbon Committee composed of business people as well as environmentalists worked for years before recommending the measure, acknowledging that accreted land is especially volatile.

Indeed, it is likely to erode again. That means structures built on accreted land will end up with the ocean lapping at their doors, and the public will be expected to foot the bill for trying to save them.

It happened at Folly Beach, and those property owners then wanted more beach renourishment or walls or riprap to offer their houses some protection.

Anyone who has lived near the coast knows that the beach grows and shrinks as nature dictates. Efforts to stop the ocean’s march inward are temporary at best, and hard erosion control structures like seawalls usually cause damage elsewhere.

KDP’s possible win would be a losing public proposition. Public beaches would lose the protection they need, and houses might be erected on a spit of land that has grown and shrunk dramatically over the years. The development would be served by a road built on an isthmus of land too narrow to reasonably accommodate it.

The Legislature needs to stand strong and pass a law to preserve public beaches for the public and for the Lowcountry’s extraordinary wildlife.